Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 27, 2022
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Escape To Echo Valley

Ride the range, soak up the spa or just get lost at BC's remote ranch resort

"Where's the saddle horn?" I asked. There was a noticeable tremor in my voice as I climbed onto my horse. Lisa, my instructor and one of Echo Valley's wranglers, couldn't help but smile as she pointed to the front of the saddle. She showed me how to get on by using the horn as leverage.

I hadn't been on a horse since junior high and had never taken a riding lesson before. But after an hour and a half (what seemed like 15 minutes), I learned to stop, go, turn and trot. More importantly, I had conquered some of my initial fear. The transformation -- from rigid tin man to supple scarecrow -- was even gratifying.

At the risk of sounding a little "Oprahesque," I couldn't help but feel good about myself and everything around me. My three days spent at the Echo Valley Ranch Resort were splendid. In a world where e-mail and cell phones are the keys to being connected, it was nice to visit a place where being connected is more of the "unplugged" variety.

Echo Valley is located in BC's remote Cariboo Region, some 450 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. You can drive, fly or do as I did and take the leisurely BC Rail trek from North Vancouver. The voyage was like an elementary school trip, where getting there is most of the fun. As the train made its way through mountain rock and braced the shores of magnificent bodies of water, I realized just how beautiful BC really is.

After seven hours, four of us descended to Kelley Lake where Norm Dove, owner of Echo Valley, picked us up in his SUV and drove us deeper into the wilderness. I couldn't tell in which direction we were headed, except that the rearview mirror's compass kept flicking. After a good 15 minutes, we entered the resort's gates and drove up to the main lodge. We were welcomed by fresh mountain air and a wide-open expanse. Jack and Jane, Dove's border collies and unofficial heads of the welcoming committee, were there too, playfully feeling us out as we unloaded the car.

The three o'clock sun shining on the ranch's golden brown log cabins made me realize it could be my only chance for taking pictures under perfect sunlit conditions. Not wasting any time, I grabbed my camera and went in search of the "great shot." A roll of film later, I felt the sudden desire to exercise. I could go to the spa's gym or stick to the outdoors and try out my lungs at the resort's high altitude. As I took to the trails, I realized I wasn't alone. One of the border collies invited himself along to keep me company.

Echo Valley is rustic chic at its most unpretentious; rustic in that it's a full-fledged working ranch with over 170 head of cattle, some 40 horses (bred and raised), chickens, hens, turkeys, rabbits, pigs and dogs. It's chic in that it offers first-class amenities, including an impressive spa pavilion with numerous treatments, a fully equipped gym, an indoor heated swimming pool, outdoor hot tubs, a meetings facility, gourmet food and activities that abound. And it's unpretentious because it's run by very special people, with Norm and Nan Dove topping the list.

Accommodations are first rate: The main lodge has six rooms on the second floor, a second guest lodge, built in 1998, accommodates up to 18 people, two luxury cabins with kitchenettes hold up to eight and there's a honeymoon house with a private hot tub on the deck; tucked away from the rest of the ranch buildings, it's the perfect idyll for two.

The ranch's hub and central meeting place is the main lodge. This is where guests sign up for any activities, enjoy their meals and play a game of billiards or simply lounge and daydream by a crackling fire.

The ranch breeds Tennessee Walking Horses that are famous for their four-beat gait. This particular gait means they don't go too fast, which is a good thing if you're a beginner like me. After my morning lesson, I couldn't wait to hit the riding trails again. The truth is, I would have gone riding that same day, but I had scheduled a 4 x 4 safari ride that would take us into Fraser Canyon. Not being from these parts, I had heard of the Fraser River, but nothing about the Canyon itself.

Located over wooded mountains just south of the ranch, the Canyon was the sleeper surprise of my trip. As I clicked photos of the barren beauty from the inside of the moving 4 x 4, I couldn't stop myself from giggling. Adults aren't supposed to giggle, but I couldn't contain my excitement. Because of its steep drops, the Safari Route has its hair-raising moments. Suffice it to say that you wouldn't want to do this route by yourself; an experienced driver who knows every inch and pebble of the road is recommended. We made stops to pick some sage bush, a scented plant indigenous to the area, but which isn't related to the cooking herb. I also captured some still-shots of the canyon from Teepee Village and Cougar Point.

Back at the ranch and feeling a little sore from my morning ride, I spent the rest of the afternoon at the spa. I went for a dip in the pool and took in a much-appreciated Thai massage right before supper.

Sit-down meals were much-anticipated affairs for three reasons: For one, and I'll blame it on the mountain air, my appetite was huge; two, master chef Kim Madsen, who has cooked for royalty and presidents and won medals at the Culinary Olympics, prepared our meals; and three, mealtime was the only real time I could chit-chat and exchange stories with the other guests. All meals were served in the main lodge at 8:30am, 12:30pm and 6:30pm everyday. A little " la "Ma and Pa Kettle," a cowbell summoned us to come and get it. Guests arrived glowing with appreciative dispositions from a full day of activities and wearing their most comfortable clothes. There was also an unofficial "no shoes" policy which, as odd as it sounds, added to the warm, fuzzy environment.

With the relaxed atmosphere, I got to know many of the guests a little better. A couple from Toronto loved sharing travel stories with the rest of us; an internist and his wife preferred to keep to themselves; a German group of five spent most of their vacation on the horses; a couple of single, urban professionals were in search of much-needed rest and a sweet newlywed couple from Philadelphia rounded out the guest list.

My last day involved some reshuffling. Because of the foul weather, my departure for Vancouver would have to be pushed forward. This meant that I couldn't go riding that morning with the others. The disappointment soon passed and turned to excitement as I boarded Norm Dove's Beaver plane. Echo Valley has a paved 1035-metre runway to make the resort even more accessible. Although I'm a little afraid of flying, I realized that after three days of being in a sacred region of the world, and to be privy to it from God's perspective, was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

As we took flight I glanced over the ranch and saw the wranglers saddling up some of the guests for their day trail. The newlyweds were getting initiated on their Tennessee Walking Horses and the border collies surveyed the grounds. Reading my mind, Norm turned to me and said, "As great as Echo Valley is when taking off, it's even more spectacular when you land."

I guess one day soon I'll have to find that out for myself.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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